Hey Blue: What is an “Illegal Pitch” and what is a “Balk” in Little League Baseball?

By Bob Downey, Hanover LL UIC 2014

The Little League Rule book has several pages that cover what a pitcher can and can’t do. Rather than including the text word for word, let’s look at the high points. A separate article covers ILLEGAL PITCHES in ASA Softball.

As with any rule, different rule associations and age brackets may have different criteria as to what constitutes an Illegal pitch or Balk.  This article is about Little League.

First off, a BALK is a type of ILLEGAL PITCH. In order for a BALK to be called a runner has to be on base. No runner, No BALK. The penalty for a BALK is to advance all runners by one base.

However, not all divisions of Little League impose the BALK penalty. For Majors division and lower, whether a runner is on base or not, a pitching violation is only called an ILLEGAL PITCH. The penalty for most violations is the award of a BALL to the batter.

There are a few pitching violations in which the rules call for a warning and if the pitcher continues to do the violations they can be removed from the pitching for the rest of the game.

Often times when young pitchers are learning, umpires will give warnings or just ignore the violation; however, they are not required to do so. (The local league may request umpires to consider doing so and may provide some guidelines to the request, in an attempt to standardize an approach.) It is a form of “on the job training”. As a season progresses and once tournaments are being played, these warning often disappear.

Some “pitching” violations can actually be perpetrated by someone other than the pitcher.

So here are some of the things that are pitching violations: (not the exact words from the rules)

  • Pitcher steps quickly onto the pitcher’s plate and pitches.
  • Pitcher disengages the pitcher’s plate and fails to drop their hands to the sides.
  • When in the Windup Position, the pitcher interrupts or alters their pitch to the batter after making any natural movement associated with the delivery of the ball to the batter.
  • The pitcher raises either foot from the ground, unless throwing to the batter, a base or disengaging the pitcher’s plate.
  • In disengaging the pitcher’s plate, the pitcher steps off with the free foot first.
  • The pitcher goes directly from a Windup position to a Set position without legally stepping off the pitchers plate and then readjusting.
  • The pitcher has the ball slip out of their hand.
  • The pitcher brings the pitching hand in contact with the mouth or lips while in the 10-foot circle (18-foot circle in Intermediate (50-70) Division/ Junior/Senior/Big League baseball) surrounding the pitcher’s plate except during cold weather.
  • A foreign substance of any kind is applied to the ball.
  • Someone spits on the ball, either hand or the glove.
  • The pitcher rubs the ball on the glove, person or clothing. (leeway given during rain)
  • Someone defaces the ball in any manner.
  • A pitcher delivers what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball or “emery” ball.
  • A player dusts the ball, uniform or their glove with the rosin bag.  (Application to hands only)
  • A pitcher intentionally delays the game.
  • A pitcher intentionally throws at the batter.
  • The pitcher, while touching the plate, makes a pitching motion or feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw. (Note they do not have to throw to second or third base.)
  • The pitcher, while touching the pitcher’s plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base.
  • The pitcher, while touching the pitcher’s plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except to make a play.
  • The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while not facing the batter.
  • The pitcher makes a natural pitching motion while not touching the pitcher’s plate.
  • The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate.
  • The catcher is not in the catcher’s box when a  ball is thrown for an intentional WALK.
  • In Intermediate (50-70) Division/Junior/Senior/Big League, the pitcher, after coming to a legal position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base.
  • In Intermediate (50-70) Division/Junior/Senior/Big League the pitcher while in the SET position fails to come to a complete and discernible stop. In Little League (Majors) and below the pitcher need not come to a complete stop.